Tag Archives: t.s. eliot

March 3, 2014

It’s a twofer Monday.When I saw the list of names in T.S. Eliot’s “Naming of Cats” I couldn’t not hear Lou Reed’s “Beginning of a Great Adventure” in my head, although maybe it’s because I happened to hear that song at about 6:30 am on Sunday. I always listen to the list of baby names he provides, and I have always thought it was so funny–still, you catch one or 2 you haven’t noticed before each time you hear the tune. So today, two absolutely towering figures in American 20th century writing, in their rather more playful moods. -ed.


The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter,
It isn’t just one of your holiday games;
You may think at first I’m as mad as a hatter
When I tell you, a cat must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES.
First of all, there’s the name that the family use daily,
Such as Peter, Augustus, Alonzo or James,
Such as Victor or Jonathan, George or Bill Bailey–
All of them sensible everyday names.
There are fancier names if you think they sound sweeter,
Some for the gentlemen, some for the dames:
Such as Plato, Admetus, Electra, Demeter–
But all of them sensible everyday names.
But I tell you, a cat needs a name that’s particular,
A name that’s peculiar, and more dignified,
Else how can he keep up his tail perpendicular,
Or spread out his whiskers, or cherish his pride?
Of names of this kind, I can give you a quorum,
Such as Munkustrap, Quaxo, or Coricopat,
Such as Bombalurina, or else Jellylorum-
Names that never belong to more than one cat.
But above and beyond there’s still one name left over,
And that is the name that you never will guess;
The name that no human research can discover–
But THE CAT HIMSELF KNOWS, and will never confess.
When you notice a cat in profound meditation,
The reason, I tell you, is always the same:
His mind is engaged in a rapt contemplation
Of the thought, of the thought, of the thought of his name:
His ineffable effable
Deep and inscrutable singular Name.



It might be fun to have a kid that I could kick around
a little me to fill up with my thoughts
A little me or he or she to fill up with my dreams
a way of saying life is not a loss

I’d keep the tyke away from school and tutor him myself
keep him from the poison of the crowd
But then again pristine isolation might not be the best idea
it’s not good trying to immortalize yourself

Beginning of a great adventure
Beginning of a great adventure

Why stop at one, I might have ten, a regular TV brood
I’d breed a little liberal army in the wood
Just like these redneck lunatics I see at the local bar
with their tribe of mutant inbred piglets with cloven hooves

I’d teach ’em how to plant a bomb, start a fire, play guitar
and if they catch a hunter, shoot him in the nuts
I’d try to be as progressive as I could possibly be
as long as I don’t have to try too much

Beginning of a great adventure
Beginning of a great adventure

Susie, Jesus, Bogart, Sam, Leslie, Jill and Jeff
Rita, Winny, Andy, Fran and Jet
Boris, Bono, Lucy, Ethel, Bunny, Reg and Tom
that’s a lot of names to try not to forget

Carrie, Marlon, Mo and Steve, La Rue and Jerry Lee
Eggplant, Rufus, Dummy, Star and The Glob
I’d need a damn computer to keep track of all these names
I hope this baby thing don’t go too far

I hope it’s true what my wife said to me
I hope it’s true what my wife said to me, hey
I hope it’s true what my wife said to me

She says, “Baby, it’s the beginning of a great adventure”
“Babe, beginning of a great adventure”
take a look

It might be fun to have a kid that I could kick around
create in my own image like a god
I’d raise my own pallbearers to carry me to my grave
and keep me company when I’m a wizened toothless clod

Some gibbering old fool sitting all alone drooling on his shirt
some senile old fart playing in the dirt
It might be fun to have a kid I could pass something on to
something better than rage, pain, anger and hurt

I hope it’s true what my wife said to me
I hope it’s true what my wife said to me
I hope it’s true what my wife said to me
She says, “Lou, it’s the beginning of a great adventure”


Apr. 22, 2013: from THE WASTELAND (1922) (T.S. Eliot)


I don’t want to ignore Rich Murphy’s food for thought from last week, which I do truly appreciate. But at the suggestion of another, unnamed reader, I will re-print some T.S. Eliot today, before we run out of April Mondays. The excerpt here (I rejected the reader’s initial suggestion of running all of The Wasteland–what?!) will perhaps stand as a stark rejoinder to the poems David Yezzi disdains in his mini-tirade. It should also stand a stark reminder that T.S. Eliot was in the habit of saying things that are demonstrably FALSE. April is the cruelest month–where did this guy live, Boca Raton?

No, he lived in London, and edited for Faber & Faber when he wasn’t writing some of the most important verse and opinions on verse for the first half of the 20th century. So: get out your dictionaries and enjoy! -ed.

from THE WASTELAND (1922)


APRIL is the cruelest month, breeding

Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering 5
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.
Summer surprised us, coming over the Starnbergersee
With a shower of rain; we stopped in the colonnade,
And went on in sunlight, into the Hofgarten, 10
And drank coffee, and talked for an hour.
Bin gar keine Russin, stamm’ aus Litauen, echt deutsch.
And when we were children, staying at the archduke’s,
My cousin’s, he took me out on a sled,
And I was frightened. He said, Marie, 15
Marie, hold on tight. And down we went.
In the mountains, there you feel free.
I read, much of the night, and go south in the winter.
What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man, 20
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water. Only
There is shadow under this red rock, 25
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust. 30
Frisch weht der Wind
Der Heimat zu,
Mein Irisch Kind,
Wo weilest du?
“You gave me hyacinths first a year ago; 35
They called me the hyacinth girl.”
—Yet when we came back, late, from the Hyacinth garden,
Your arms full, and your hair wet, I could not
Speak, and my eyes failed, I was neither
Living nor dead, and I knew nothing, 40
Looking into the heart of light, the silence.
Öd’ und leer das Meer.
Madame Sosostris, famous clairvoyante,
Had a bad cold, nevertheless
Is known to be the wisest woman in Europe, 45
With a wicked pack of cards. Here, said she,
Is your card, the drowned Phoenician Sailor,
(Those are pearls that were his eyes. Look!)
Here is Belladonna, the Lady of the Rocks,
The lady of situations. 50
Here is the man with three staves, and here the Wheel,
And here is the one-eyed merchant, and this card,
Which is blank, is something he carries on his back,
Which I am forbidden to see. I do not find
The Hanged Man. Fear death by water. 55
I see crowds of people, walking round in a ring.
Thank you. If you see dear Mrs. Equitone,
Tell her I bring the horoscope myself:
One must be so careful these days.
Unreal City, 60
Under the brown fog of a winter dawn,
A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,
I had not thought death had undone so many.
Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled,
And each man fixed his eyes before his feet. 65
Flowed up the hill and down King William Street,
To where Saint Mary Woolnoth kept the hours
With a dead sound on the final stroke of nine.
There I saw one I knew, and stopped him, crying “Stetson!
You who were with me in the ships at Mylae! 70
That corpse you planted last year in your garden,
Has it begun to sprout? Will it bloom this year?
Or has the sudden frost disturbed its bed?
Oh keep the Dog far hence, that’s friend to men,
Or with his nails he’ll dig it up again! 75
You! hypocrite lecteur!—mon semblable,—mon frère!”

Nov 26, 2012 Aunt Helen

Dear Readers,

I read the craziest thing the other week–well, more like my eyes passed over a subheadline, and my brain immediately said, “that can’t possibly be true,” and then I forgot all about it for weeks. The headline read, “Widow of T.S. Eliot Dies at 86.” Now look, we all know who Eliot is, I studied him as a high schooler and college student and there’s this funny, profile picture of him in all the anthologies, looking like it was taken by Louis Daguerre himself. He’s lumped in with all the modernist masters, a giant, sure, but he started publishing more than 100 years ago. Reading that headline was like hearing that Benny Goodman would be performing a live show in town next month.
So the Guardian says, “Friends said the marriage was a happy one despite the almost 40-year gap in their ages.” And then it all starts to make sense, you know? He was a publishing bigwig at Faber & Faber, she a secretary. It was his 2nd marriage. And she was his literary executor until this month. Eliot himself, of course, was born quite a very long time ago (1888-1965), in St. Louis. For me he’s always had this dense air of complete seriousness–his poems are big, and monumental, and they consume and spit out within themselves reams and reams of western history and literature: myths, symbols, drama, religion, psychology, war… all these themes and topics are considered and given a weight of words they deserve. 
Therefore I was delighted to find this little near-sonnet, which I would never have recognized as an Eliot poem. Some of the vocab retains his formality, but there’s a pleasant tone to the speaker’s voice, and even a little quirky humor with the reference to the deceased’s pets. As for full-rhyme–it’s there, but I’ll let other readers dissect all that. Hope you all got to spend some time with your oddball relatives this Thanksgiving week. -ed.

Aunt Helen

Miss Helen Slingsby was my maiden aunt,
And lived in a small house near a fashionable square
Cared for by servants to the number of four.
Now when she died there was silence in heaven
And silence at her end of the street.
The shutters were drawn and the undertaker wiped his feet —
He was aware that this sort of thing had occurred before.
The dogs were handsomely provided for,
But shortly afterwards the parrot died too.
The Dresden clock continued ticking on the mantelpiece,
And the footman sat upon the dining-table
Holding the second housemaid on his knees —
Who had always been so careful while her mistress lived.